Have you ever seen a Gospel synopsis? There are a number available, of which Kurt Aland’s Synopsis of the Four Gospels is probably the most familiar and the most reliable. New Testament scholars couldn’t function without them.
The Gospels tell stories about Jesus that are plainly differing versions of the same story–or, if you prefer, differing perceptions of the same event. It’s easiest to get a sense of the variants of they’re laid out in parallel columns, which is precisely what a Gospel synopsis does. This works best for the three “Synoptic Gospels,” Matthew, Mark and Luke, which share many of the stories about Jesus and the sayings attributed to him, often in different sequence and, even where they keep the same wording, reinterpreting those words by putting them in a different context.
The Gospel of John is an outlier. Yet every now and then John will include a story or saying that’s close enough to what we find in the Synoptics to warrant its being included in a fourth column, as in the example above (posted to www.jesus-story.net from Aland’s Synopsis).
Could we imagine a “Roswell synopsis”? That is, a collation of the several versions of the testimony of key Roswell witnesses, laid out in parallel columns for easy comparison–what Glenn Dennis, or Frank Kaufmann or Gerald Anderson, told at different times to different investigators? And then a sort of “super-synopsis” comparing the witnesses to one another?
Of course it would be a massive undertaking. If you think it’s hard to get Matthew, Mark and Luke side by side, doing something similar for the transmitters of the Roswell “gospel” would put a strain on human ingenuity and industry that probably goes beyond what we’re capable of. That’s why I don’t expect to see a Synopsis of the Roswell Tradition on the shelves anytime soon. Yet imagining what such a resource might look like may itself be a useful exercise.
Take, for example, the case of Gerald Anderson.
Anderson wasn’t the first to come forward with an account of a crashed UFO, not in the Roswell area, but in the Plains of San Agustin in the desert of western New Mexico some 200 miles away. That motif had surfaced near the beginning of the rediscovery of Roswell, in October 1978, when a woman and her husband approached UFOlogist Stanton Friedman after a lecture to share a strange story they remembered having heard from their deceased friend Grady Barnett. But Anderson was the first to claim to have seen the wreckage, and its dead or dying pilots, with his own eyes.
He was five years old in the summer of 1947, or possibly six. (His age is variously given in the Roswell literature.) He was traveling with his father, uncle, brother and cousin when they came upon the crashed object, approached it, explored it. They weren’t alone: a team of archaeologists from an Eastern university, possibly the University of Pennsylvania, was there, a “Dr. Buskirk” and several of his students. Soon another man would arrive whom Anderson remembered as looking like then-President Harry Truman, and whom UFOlogists have sometimes identified as Grady Barnett.
And then the military, with whose appearance the episode would come to a harsh, abrupt end.
Anderson came forward with his story in the wake of the January 1990 rebroadcast of an Unsolved Mysteries TV special about Roswell. UFOlogist Kevin Randle interviewed him over the phone on February 4, and gives hefty chunks of their audiotaped conversation in his 2016 book Roswell in the 21st Century. According to Randle, Stanton Friedman interviewed Anderson for the first time on February 16; Randle supposes the undated quotes of Anderson in chapter 7 of the 1992 Crash at Corona, co-authored by Friedman and Don Berliner, to have been taken from this initial interview. Unlike Randle, however, Friedman spoke with Anderson on multiple occasions, and the quotes in chapter 8 of Crash at Corona are taken (says Friedman) from an interview of September 1990.
Randle also quotes extracts from an interview published in a Missouri newspaper on December 9, 1990, and with one Bob Oeschler on March 24, 1991. Air Force Captain James McAndrew, in an appendix to his The Roswell Report: Case Closed (1997), gives a full transcript of an interview with Anderson which he attributes to “raw footage used to prepare the video, Recollections of Roswell Part II (Washington, D.C.: Fund for UFO Research, 1993).” There’s no date for the interview, except that it’s obviously prior to 1993. These are the sources that I can imagine using for the “Gerald Anderson” section of the Roswell Synopsis. There are no doubt others that I haven’t come across.
Randle seems to have been suspicious of Anderson from the beginning, and the man’s subsequent behavior gives color to the view that he was a liar and a hoaxer. He insisted, for some peculiar reason, that his 54-minute telephone conversation with Randle lasted only 26 minutes; he produced a telephone bill to prove it. Randle was able to show that he’d doctored the bill. A “contemporary” diary ascribed to Anderson’s Uncle Ted, its entries supporting Anderson’s claims, turned out to have been written in an ink that didn’t exist in 1947. Obviously it was forged.
No wonder, then, that the UFOlogists have mostly dismissed Anderson’s testimony. Ironically, it was the debunker McAndrew who found reason to suppose that his story wasn’t pure fabrication, but contained a nucleus of fact.
Anderson, wrote McAndrew, “provided an abundance of supporting details that accurately described vehicles, aircraft, equipment, and procedures used by the Holloman AFB Balloon Branch to launch and recover anthropomorphic dummies.” McAndrew noticed that Anderson remembered the UFO as having been eerily cold, amid the suffocating heat of the New Mexico desert. Not the sort of thing a hoaxer would invent. Rather, “this accurately describes a physical condition known as ‘cold soaking’ common to high altitude payloads that had recently been exposed to sub-zero temperatures of the upper atmosphere.”
The mysterious “Dr. Buskirk,” leader of the archaeological team from “the University of Pennsylvania,” turned out to be a real person. Only–as Randle and other UFOlogists discovered–he wasn’t from an Eastern university, and in July 1947 he was nowhere near where Anderson remembered him. (Nor did he encounter any crashed UFOs.) He’d been a teacher at Albuquerque High School, in whose anthropology course Anderson was enrolled in the fall of 1957. (In a high school? They didn’t teach anthropology in the Pennsylvania high schools when I went there in the early 1960s. But maybe New Mexico was different.)
So he wasn’t a figment of Anderson’s imagination. Anderson’s memory of having encountered him was real. Displaced, however, from its proper context.
What will the several versions of the “Anderson tradition” look like, laid out in parallel columns in a Roswell Synopsis? I’ll imagine one section of it devoted to the military meanies who showed up at the crash site to put an end to the Andersons’ encounter with the alien. Specifically, the pair we’ve already encountered in Glenn Dennis’s story of the alien autopsy at Roswell Army Air Field–the red-headed captain, the black sergeant.
Here’s what Anderson told Randle on February 4, 1990:
“It wasn’t very long before the military types showed up. There was a captain … he had red hair. He was an asshole. He threatened everyone with the most incredible things you could possibly believe. … First off, he told my father if he repeated this he would see to it that he would spend his entire life in a military prison and he would never see his children again. … These people [the military] were heavily armed and they were very ill-tempered. … To make a long story short, they ran everyone off.”
The red-headed captain is alone; the black sergeant hasn’t yet made his appearance.
Now here’s what Anderson said to Friedman in September 1990:
“They all came down here, screaming and hollering and running us away from [the saucer]. There was a black soldier drivin’ the car, and there was an officer with red hair that got out of the car, and he turned out to be the biggest [bleep] of all times. He was obviously in command, and let everybody know it real quick.
“He came down there and they started threatening people and pushing people around. I remember my Uncle Ted smacked one of them and knocked him right on his ass … this guy just shoved him with a rifle and Ted just hit him! And then this Dr. Buskirk and my Dad grabbed [Ted] and pulled him back.”
(Shades of the disciple cutting off the ear of the high priest’s slave, Matthew 26:51 and parallels?)
“This red-headed guy … was a captain (because my brother told me he was a captain) … his name was Armstrong, and that was printed on the uniform. They never frisked anybody, [but] they took everybody’s name and everything. Then they run us all out of there.”
“Armstrong”–an appropriate name for someone using strong-arm tactics? Or, as Jerry Clark has suggested, was Anderson influenced by Bill Brazel Jr.’s 1989 testimony of having been visited by a “real nice” officer named Armstrong, accompanied by an equally nice sergeant? (If so, he’s completely reversed Brazel’s attitude toward the people he encountered.) Either way, Anderson has to explain how, at age 5 or 6, he could have known the man was a captain. The black “soldier” makes his appearance as no more than a driver for the white officer (although later there’s a reference to “this black sergeant,” who is apparently the same person).
Speaking to Bob Oeschler, March 24, 1991:
“These people got out. They were all armed. They were all wearing MP brassards on their arms. There [sic] were all wearing sort of dust brown uniforms. The man who was in charge was an Army captain who had this flaming red hair and this rudest attitude that you have ever seen in your life. The sergeant who was with him was kind of an anomaly, I guess at that time, looking back from my perspective as an adult. This was 1947. The guy was a sergeant and he was black. He was definitely second in command. There was no question about that … all of them were very rude, very forceful, they pointed weapons at people, they threatened to shoot people. We were summarily rounded up like cattle. …
“They threated [sic] my father, and they threatened my uncle with statements that if you ever want to see your children again and if you don’t want to spend the rest of your life in a prison you will keep your mouth shut.”
The detail of Uncle Ted’s punching out the soldier is dropped in this version. The black man is now unequivocally a “sergeant … second in command,” and Anderson feels obliged to remark on how unusual–not to say impossible–this would have been in 1947.
Finally, the interview published as Appendix C to The Roswell Report: Case Closed. It’s undated, as I’ve said. If I had to guess, I’d say it represents an intermediate stage between the Friedman interview of September 1990 and the Oeschler interview of March 1991.
“They [the soldiers] come off the highway, the same way we did. Well, in the meantime, when they stopped, this black soldier, this sergeant, the reason I know he was a sergeant, my brother told me he was, and he got out of this car and then a guy got out on the other side and he was a, Glen [Anderson’s brother] said he was a captain, he told me later he was a captain and the guy had orange and red hair. So all the soldiers and them came running over there pointing guns at people, telling them, ‘Get away, get away, get away,’ you know? …
“And this red headed officer, this guy was a real butt hole. He made all the threats. He threatened to have people shot. … He told my uncle and my father that if they didn’t want to spend the rest of their life in prison they would never say anything about what they saw there, if they ever wanted to see us kids again, they’d take the kids away. They’d never see the kids, you know, meaning me and Victor [his cousin].”
(He doesn’t seem entirely sure whether it’s the children who are going to be taken away, or the grownups. Either way–the children are abandoned.)
“And one of the soldiers pushed my uncle. He had a rifle like this and he shoved him back like that. Well, that was something you didn’t do to my uncle Ted. Ted had a violent temper. And he grabbed the rifle and reached over top and smacked the guy and dropped him right there. And Ted would go out and fight, heck, this guy’s a cowboy. He’ll hit you in a minute.
“And of course when he did that there was bolts opened and I guess cocking, they were cocking their rifles. They were pointing guns at people and everybody Buskirk and Glen and dad grabbed him, you know, pulled him back and got him away. ‘No, don’t, Ted, they’re going to shoot. Don’t do that.’ You know, trying to stop this. And I think we came very close to having someone shot.”
Anderson is asked, “Did the redhead do all the talking, pretty much?” He answers: “Pretty much. Except once in a while the sergeant would, you know, chime in and make statements like that to other people in response to the redhead. But mainly it was the redhead.” Asked whether there was a name tag, he replies: “Yes, sir, there was. His name was Armstrong. And I’m not sure if I know that from having read it or know that from remembering it and now being able to read it in my memory, or if someone said that to me. But his name was Armstrong, it was right here on his uniform.”
(A 5-year-old normally hasn’t yet learned to read. So how was Anderson able to read the officer’s name tag? His recollection doesn’t make total sense to him on this point; we see him struggling with it.)
In this same interview there’s an extraordinary, powerful statement. It’s perhaps a key to what Anderson’s memories–which surely didn’t correspond to anything in physical reality–meant to him. He’s speaking of a UFO being who’s survived the crash:
“And all of a sudden it just turned and look right straight at me between my uncle Ted and myself. And this is when–it was just like an explosion of things in my head, things … I started, you know, feeling just terrible depression and loneliness and fear and just, you know, awful, awful feelings that just suddenly burst in to my mind there. I don’t know if that meant that it was communicating with me and I was the only one there that it could communicate with because I was a kid. I don’t know.
“I turned and ran and I ran across the arroyo and up on the area that it had bounced off of during the crash. I was just standing there looking down at this scene, you know, at my family, and off in the distance I could see cattle grazing. I could see a windmill and could see dust trails out on the plains out there. And, oh, I was there for a while and then I came back down.”
Anderson said something of the sort in December 1990, to the reporter from the Springfield, Missouri, News-Leader. The creature “turned and looked right at me, and it was like he was inside my head–as if he was doing my thinking, as is [sic] his thoughts were inside my head. … I felt that thing’s fear, felt its depression. I relived the crash. I know the terror it went through.”
You couldn’t ask for a more explicit statement: the child Gerald and the child-like UFOnaut are one. He thinks the being’s thoughts, feels its terror and despair–or is it the other way around? What he’s telling us certainly isn’t truth, in the literal sense of the word. But neither is it a falsehood. It conveys, rather, an overwhelming authenticity that transcends the dichotomy of truth and falsehood.
In this authenticity lies the secret of Roswell.
by David Halperin
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